Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 441
Night Attack and Ambush
No matter how thorough the wise, even they will slip up. Claude only just got to experience what that saying truly meant. As he compared the mortars of the theatre and those of the Shiksans, he noticed that he had been looking at it through a tunnel vision. He pursued portability to no end and caused their mortars to only have half the range of the Shiksan pumpkins, which caused them to be bested by them as a result.
It was true that the heavy catapults and rounds that were three times the size were hard to carry for the Shiksan troops, and their catapults would also be the biggest target to aim for on the battlefield. The operators would no doubt suffer many casualties from the focus fire of the enemy.
However, the firing range of 140 metres and greater explosive power made up for the weaknesses. A soldier's mission was to kill enemies, not to care for their own lives on the battlefield. For battle-hardened commanders, soldiers were mere consumables on the battlefield. Their only goal was to make sure the enemy consumed more of that resource than himself.
Claude had committed the cardinal sin of being sympathetic to the soldiers. Fortunately, he was only thus towards his own men, not the enemy. The theatre's mortars were among the first things Claude had invented and could fire some 70 metres away. While those weapons were easy to use and great for troops that needed to take cover and be mobile, those advantages were completely overshadowed when fighting defensively.
In a defensive fight, the troops would remain in the strongholds, so they wouldn't need mobility. As such, distance became the priority. The best weapon against mortar was the mortar, which was something that had already been proven in combat simulations. All the defence could do was to fire enough mortars to suppress the attacking side.
However, Claude's stubbornness caused Monolith unnecessary casualties. Initially, Sonia and Angelina had tried to implement catapult-style mortars and increased the firing range to 200 metres. However, Claude didn't like how it took too many people to operate, which resulted in too many casualties when fighting defending enemies, so he forbade the troops from using them.
It was only when Birkin so gleefully told him that they managed to get a few of the enemy catapult mortars to use in his defences that Claude realised the magnitude of his mistake. He could simply make different mortars for attack and defence. That way, the Shiksans wouldn't have an advantage with their longer-range mortars.
Claude had wanted to replace the existing mortars with grenade-discharge or tube-firing ones. He had initially invented the current iteration of mortars as grenades anyway. He only converted it into a mortar because there was no way to mass produce stable gunpowder that could generate a strong-enough explosion, so he compensated by filling it up with more black powder, which made it unable to be thrown by hand.
That was why he didn't treasure his mortar design that much and easily gave the rights to make them to the old nobility's representative. He didn't think the appearance of the mortar in Freia would cause other nations to try to replicate it, leading to the heavy casualties they suffered by Shiksan hands.
Currently, the theatre's mortars had half the range of the enemy's, so they weren't able to effectively suppress the enemy. As for the tube-firing mortar design he placed his hopes in, tests still didn't succeed due to technical constraints. It was likely the case that the theatre's mortars had the weakest explosive power and shortest range relative to the knockoffs made in Freia.
Fortunately, Birkin wasn't really serious about blaming Claude for it. No general could perfectly predict all the variables in battle. He was all too happy to see Claude come with the garrison line from Castle Moknad. Since they used to be his subordinates, the takeover was smooth and he soon stabilised the second defence line at the eastern mountain area.
Claude also brought Thundercrash's Tribe 131 and Line 1303, all armed with the new rifles. So, Birkin was eager to try reclaiming the first defence line from enemy hands. But after much consideration, Claude turned the plan down and asked Birkin to get the nikancha to build a few more defence lines behind the existing ones.
The reason he gave was simple. It was like fishing; pulling immediately after the fish got the bait would usually cause it to escape. Only by being patient enough and letting the hook sink in deeper could they truly catch it. Currently, the three corps in the first defence line were the large fish that fell for the bait. Counterattacking immediately might tick the cunning commander off and cause him to retreat immediately.
As such, Birkin had his men give up on taking the defence line back from the enemies. Claude wanted to inspire in his enemies the spirit of never giving up by ordering for a few more defence lines to be built, constantly hanging the carrot of success inches from their noses and rendering them oblivious to the trap they were walking into.
Claude was now ready to strike at any time. As they had previously planned, he would intercept the enemy's rear from a diagonal angle to disrupt their supply lines. If possible, he wanted to surround the veterans of the three Shiksan corps in the mountains and capture them after draining them of their supplies so that they could contribute to the glorious development of the theatre.
While he managed to convince Birkin to do what he said, Claude realised when he led Tribe 131 to attack that the proverbial fish wouldn't be that easy to catch. The theatre's initial plan was to take down an enemy corps, but now, it seemed impossible to achieve, because there were now three guests instead of one in the banquet they prepared.
There were still a dozen of nikancha tribes at the fringes of the northern mountainous coasts. Learning from the horrible loss due to the bombardment, Monolith sent a band of soldiers to train the nikancha on how to counter mortar attacks.
Claude heard that the Shiksans didn't launch any delay attacks from the officers in charge of the nikancha that returned from the fringe areas of the northern mountains. However, the number of Shiksan scout tents increased considerably. The nikancha tribes' main priority was to take out the Shiksan scout tents. Both sides suffered considerable casualties.
After entering the eastern mountain area, Claude noticed that Shiksan outposts were all over the place. Shiksan lookouts were stationed at quite a number of elevated areas. Had Tribe 131 not received special training, been strong from the get-go and been armed with new rifles, Claude wouldn't have been able to handle the Shiksan infiltrators.
He ordered Tribe 131 to split up and clear out the Shiksan scout tents and their lookouts. Since they weren't able to hide their presence from the enemy, they might as well go in guns blazing and keep the enemy constantly on their toes and unaware of the number of their attackers. Only by instilling fear in the enemy would they be able to startle them into a retreat, allowing Claude to reclaim much of the mountainous area.
It was obvious that the Shiksans also took note of the enemy units that had infiltrated their rear. The choice was obvious to make from the theatre's perspective. The five Shiksan corps had their supply lines cut off by Ranger using the very same tactics, not to mention the supplies in Wickhamsburg that were all burned up. In the end, near 300 thousand soldiers had to surrender and march into the labour camps.
This time around, the Shiksans had been prepared for the same trick to be used again. They guessed the theatre only sent a tribe or two to infiltrate the eastern mountains, so they sent two lines to take care of them. What they didn't expect was the fearsome might Tribe 131 had with their new rifles. The two Shiksan lines were beaten back without even seeing the enemy up close. Only a tenth of them survived.
Claude led Tribe 131 and launched a night attack and an ambush against the two lines respectively. Those were familiar tricks employed by Thundercrash. The advantage of using cartridges instead of slow matches was they didn't have to light them, which would've been a dead giveaway during the night. The Sonia 591s also mowed down the enemies quickly. Any enemy soldier that attempted to retaliate would inevitably light their slow matches, which gave the attacking soldiers a bright target to aim for. They were soon obliterated.
Initially, that line of Shiksans had wanted to hold their camp and wait for reinforcements from the rear to arrive. However, they couldn't hold on at all under the immense pressure Thundercrash was putting on them. The most troublesome part was how they couldn't even tell where the enemy was because of the lack of slow-match lights. With their basic countermeasure against night attacks gone, they weren't able to fight back at all.
The Shiksan troops could only hear the sounds of guns being fired and mortars being flung. Their comrades fell one after another and within an hour and a half, their ranks were completely crumbled. Fewer than a tribe of enemy soldiers survived the hellish onslaught and escaped their camps into the dark forests. They only managed to encounter more friendlies when day broke.
Tribe 131 only suffered fewer than a hundred casualties in the night battle, which were mostly due to the Shiksans' random shooting and scattershot from the light-infantry cannons in the camp. Even blind shooters could hit targets with enough time and repetition. While the cannoneers were almost immediately taken out, a few unlucky Thundercrash soldiers who were too close to the enemy camp were killed.
Claude didn't let Tribe 131 search the enemy camp for spoils or treat the enemy injured. Instead, he had them rush to the rear of the camp to set up an ambush in a nearby valley. When all the soldiers were properly hidden, he had some men wipe away traces of their presence and let his men rest.
When day finally broke, the other Shiksan combat line met up with the scattered soldiers that managed to escape their camp. When they heard about the shocking news of their fall during the night attack, the tribesman of the vanguard chickened out and didn't dare proceed forward. If a whole line could be wiped out with so few surviving, his tribe would no doubt be walking into a death trap.
After two long, gruelling hours, the main force finally came. Upon hearing the testimony of the surviving soldiers, the linesman broke into a tirade, calling the vanguard's tribesman a shame to all Shiksan soldiers. He reasoned that since the enemy attacked during the night, it meant that they didn't have enough forces to match up with the combat line. That was the only plausible reason for using such an underhanded tactic. If the enemy had two or three lines or one folk, they could simply mount a direct attack.
The Shiksan line was only eliminated because they were ill-prepared and careless during the night. If the vanguard tribe had rushed to their aid, perhaps they'd be able to catch the enemies who just finished their night attack. According to common protocols of engagement, the officer of the unit would usually let his men scavenge for spoils after winning a battle. Had the vanguard tribe rushed there, they would've been able to deliver a fatal blow to the enemy.
The linesman got angrier and angrier as he rebuked the cowardly tribesman and ordered all his men to increase their pace to rush to the camp of their fallen comrades. He was certain that the enemy would've long left the camp, so the way there had to be safe. He would also be able to show how eager he was to help his allies out, so his leadership couldn't be faulted no matter how the battle turned out.
Eventually, this other Shiksan line walked straight into Claude's trap and let the tragedy unfold. During the initial moments of the ambush, the linesman had wanted to put up a death struggle when he discovered the enemy's ambushers that encircled them were only a hundred metres away. He ordered his men to counterattack at once, only to be turned into swiss cheese right after giving his order.
The rapid firing of the new rifles caused the Shiksans to feel gunshots were firing off endlessly around them. The sound alone was enough to give them the impression the enemy wasn't that much fewer in numbers than they were. Any attempt at counterattacking would be pointless, and the braver soldiers who bothered to load or aim would immediately be covered in bullet holes. Merely raising one's body the slightest inch was enough to earn them an honourable death on the battlefield.
The gunshots didn't seem to stop and the Shiksans continued to increase their estimations of the enemy ambush force's numbers. Even a line of troops couldn't fire that many shots in succession, as muskets had to be loaded after each shot. It was a time-consuming process, yet, there were no gaps in the gunshots of the enemy.
They laid flat on the ground or hid behind rocks or even under corpses. The experienced veterans believed that the firing would eventually stop.
And that did happen as they predicted. Almost everyone in Tribe 131 had emptied six to seven magazines that each contained five rounds. The 1300 men fired near 40 thousand bullets and all the Shiksan soldiers, alive or dead, were flat on the ground. None of them could remain standing or sitting if they wanted to live.
The gunfire ceased and the soldiers of Tribe 131 found that they no longer had targets to fire at. Since they couldn't possibly continue to fire at the corpses, they immediately cheered. However, Claude ordered them to keep their guard up and had the mortar units launch three volleys for safe measure instead of getting his men to clean up the battlefield directly.
His care prevented the tribe from suffering unnecessary casualties. When the mortars exploded, the soldiers were shocked to see countless figures jump out from the pile of corpses. The Shiksan veterans braved the bullets fired by Claude's men, managed to react and dashed for the rear. Near a thousand of them ran without caring about any losses. In the end, some 300 of them managed to escape.
Claude felt quite frustrated. The new rifle's performance on the battlefield was stellar, but the men of Tribe 131 who were given the most live-round training still wasted too many bullets. Had he had more men, he would've been able to make a proper encirclement to prevent the remaining 300 from escaping to achieve a flawless victory.
Looking at the rivers of blood and piles of human remains, Claude finally gave the order to clean up the battlefield.